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Butts labels Forum lawsuit a ‘sham’

Owners accuse city of deception

City News Service | 4/12/2018, midnight
Inglewood Mayor James Butts and an attorney for the city lashed out this week at..

Inglewood Mayor James Butts and an attorney for the city lashed out this week at the owners of the Forum over a lawsuit they filed challenging the city’s effort to build an arena to house the Los Angeles Clippers, calling the legal action a “sham.’’

“We plan to defend the lawsuit vigorously,’’ Inglewood attorney Skip Miller said. “And I look forward to our day in court. Normally a defendant doesn’t say that, but I’m saying it here. Bring it on.’’

Madison Square Garden, which owns the Forum, filed a lawsuit in March accusing Butts of deceiving the company into surrendering a long-term lease and purchase option for 15 acres of city-owned land used for overflow parking by claiming it was needed for a planned “technology park.’’ But the city instead engaged in secret talks with the Clippers about a possible new arena “using the very same land MSG Forum had leased for parking,’’ according to the lawsuit.

MSG officials contend in the suit that the city’s negotiations to build a competitive arena violate terms of the Forum’s contracts with Inglewood that bar the city from taking any actions that would cause “a material adverse impact on the use, operations, functionality or economic competitiveness of the Forum.’’

At a Tuesday morning news conference, Miller disputed that claim, saying “there’s no exclusivity for a concern venue in the city of Inglewood.’’ He referred to the lawsuit as a “sham.’’

Butts said he was surprised at the lawsuit, which he called “ridiculous’’ and “ludicrous.’’ He said he intervened in behalf of the Forum owners when the company fell behind on rent payments on a parking lot controlled by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who is building a new NFL stadium across the street from the arena.

“I’ve worked hard to assist the Forum in every way,’’ Butts said.

“The Forum is the number one concert venue in the state of California and number two in the country in booked events. We’re proud of the Forum, but we’re not proud of what they’ve done here.’’

Officials with the Forum issued a statement in response to the comments by Butts and Miller, saying they “support the fundamental allegations in our complaint.’’

“Mayor Butts relied on deception and fraud to make the city’s agreement with the Clippers possible, and the city clearly violated its contractual commitments to the Forum,’’ according to the company. “We will continue to energetically defend the Forum and the many benefits it provides to Inglewood.’’

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit contends it was MSG Forum that initially discussed with Butts the possibility of moving the Clippers to the Forum when the team’s lease at Staples Center expires, but that proposal never advanced. But the suit accuses Butts of then engaging in secret talks with the team to build a separate arena.

The suit also contends that in January of 2017, Butts asked Forum officials not to use his official city email account for communications, directing them instead to use his personal Gmail account in an apparent effort to prevent “a paper trail evidencing his bad acts.’’

The Inglewood City Council in June of 2017 approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Clippers for possible construction of an arena on 22 acres of land that includes the property previously leased by the Forum.

The lawsuit cites city documents indicating that the proposed Clippers arena could host 100 to 150 “family shows, concerts, conventions and corporate events each year,’’ directly competing with the Forum.

The lawsuit seeks a court order blocking further talks between the city and the Clippers, reinstatement of the Forum’s parking lease on the proposed arena property and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said previously he wants to move the NBA team from Staples Center, which it shares with the Los Angeles Lakers and the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings, to a new state-of-the-art facility. The Clippers’ Staples Center lease is up in 2024.

Inglewood’s agreement with Ballmer, which was secured by a $1.5 million payment to the city, gives the team and the city three years to negotiate for the proposed 18,000- to 20,000-seat arena at the corner of Century Boulevard and Yukon Avenue.